GOING FOR REFUGE
WHY TAKE REFUGE?
"Taking refuge" makes the difference between Buddhists and non-Buddhists. It
is not even necessary to take refuge in a formal session with a teacher, but
it may help to clarify your choice and to remember your commitment.
"How do I become a Buddhist?
Once there was a man called Upali. He was the follower of another
religion and he went to the Buddha in order to argue with him and
try to convert him. But after talking to the Buddha, he was so impressed
that he decided to become a follower of the Buddha.
But the Buddha said: "Make a proper investigation first. Proper investigation
is good for a well-known person like yourself."
Upali: "Now I am even more pleased and satisfied when the Lord says
to me: 'Make a proper investigation first.' For if members of another
religion had secured me as a discipline they would have paraded a
banner all around the town saying: 'Upali has joined our religion.'
But the Lord says to me: Make a proper investigation first. Proper
investigation is good for a well-known person like yourself."
In Buddhism, understanding is the most important thing and understanding
takes time. So do not impulsively rush into Buddhism. Take your time,
ask questions, consider carefully, and then make your decision. The
Buddha was not interested in having a large number of disciples. He
was concerned that people should follow his teachings as a result
of a careful investigation and consideration of the facts.
From: Good Question, Good Answer by Bhikkhu Shravasti Dhammika
The idea behind taking refuge is that when it starts to rain, we like to
find a shelter. The Buddhist shelter from the rain of problems and pain of
life is threefold: the Buddha, his teachings (the
Dharma) and the spiritual community (the Sangha).
Taking refuge means that we have some understanding about suffering, and we
have confidence that the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha (the "Three Jewels") can
help us. We should however not be taking refuge in Buddhism to avoid problems
in this very life, there are many non-religious organisations for that, but
we should take refuge to avoid problems in future lives, or even better, to
avoid future uncontrolled rebirths.
We like to be free from suffering, now and in future lives. When we understand
the frustrating nature of all life, we like to be freed from cyclic existence
in general. The best reason would be the wish to free all living (sentient)
beings from suffering.
The analogy of sickness is often used; Buddha is the doctor; Dharma is the
medicine; Sangha is the nurse; we are the patient; the cure is taking the medicine,
which means practising the methods. Taking refuge is like unpacking the medicine
and deciding to follow the doctor's advice.
"To take refuge in the Buddha is to take refuge in someone who
has let go of holding back just as you can do. To take refuge in the
dharma is to take refuge in all the teachings that encourage you and
nurture your inherent ability to let go of holding back. And to take
refuge in the sangha is to take refuge in the community of people who
share this longing to let go and open rather than shield themselves.The
support we give each other as practitioners is not the usual samsaric
support in which we all join the same team and complain about someone
else. It's more that you're on your own, completely alone, but it's
helpful to know that there are forty other people who are also going
through this all by themselves. That's very supportive and encouraging.
Fundamentally, even though other people can give you support, you do
it yourself, and that's how you grow up in this process, rather than
becoming more dependent."
From the book 'Start Where You Are' by Pema Chödrön
Buddha means enlightened, awakened or omniscient One. A Buddha is a person
who has purified all defilements and developed all good qualities.
A Buddha is totally free from obscurations and suffering after travelling
the entire spiritual path. A Buddha started as an ordinary person and generated
infinite compassion and equanimity to arrive at a state of highest bliss,
and omniscience. But, as the Buddha himself said: "I cannot do but point
the way" - if we don't take the medicine, the doctor is helpless, but what
better doctor could we have than an omniscient one?
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Dharma (Sanskrit) or Dhamma (Pali) means doctrine, law or truth. The word
Dharma has many different connotations, but in the Buddhist sense, it refers
to "what holds back the mind from suffering", or the Buddha's teachings. In
this sense, the Dharma is the ultimate medicine against all suffering.
The Sangha refers to the spiritual community. It is defined in various ways,
- Whole community of ordained and lay Buddhists. This is however
not the traditional use.
- More restricted: ordained Buddhist practitioners (monks and nuns).
- Most specific: persons who have direct perception of emptiness
(ordained or lay).
The Sangha, are like other travellers on the same spiritual path, but we
need their help like nurses with the correct medicine of good advice. They
are our spiritual friends who can help us stay on the right path and can share
their own experience.
If we decide to go for refuge in the three jewels, we should also commit
ourselves to the path we choose by keeping vows.
The one mandatory vow, always implicit in taking refuge, is not wanting to
harm other sentient beings. Please note that depending on tradition and teacher,
some differences can appear in the exact definitions of the vows.
Optional other vows are:
1. Not killing: refers to humans and animals; it is both harming sentient
2. Not stealing: not taking what is not given; (this includes not paying
3. No sexual misconduct: refers usually to committing adultery (having sex
with others when married).
4. Not lying: refers usually to not lying about spiritual attainments, but
can include all lying.
5. No intoxicants; refers traditionally to alcohol, but anything robbing
clarity of mind (like drugs) is usually included.
"Question: What is the difference between making
a commitment by formally taking refuge (and precepts) and simply not harming?
Why is the formal commitment important?
Answer: Suppose you make a commitment never to kill a dragon.
Most people will never see a dragon in their entire lives; some think dragons
don't exist. So, you might ask, why would anyone make a commitment not to
kill a dragon? If you never kill a dragon, you aren't creating any non-virtue,
yet at the same time you're not creating any virtue (merit). From the day
you make a commitment not to kill a dragon, and continue to uphold that
commitment, you're accumulating virtue. In taking refuge, you accumulate
great virtue minute by minute as you uphold your vows.
From Chagdud Tulku: Gates to Buddhist Practice: Essential Teachings
of a Tibetan Master
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1. Primary guidelines
a. To actualise refuge in:
- Buddha: commit yourself to one master, the Buddha
- Dharma: listen, study and practice Dharma to overcome your own delusions
- Sangha: respect Sangha and train in accordance with their example
b. Try to:
- subdue the body, speech and mind, instead of letting our senses rule us,
do not speak harsh, sceptical and avoid being judgmental.
- practice ethics and vows.
- be kind and considerate to any living being.
- make special offerings on two special days of the year: the 15th of 4th
lunar month (around May), to celebrate birth, enlightenment and passing
away of the Buddha, and on the 4th of 6th lunar month (around July) to celebrate
the first turning of the wheel - or the first teachings of the Buddha
on the 4 Noble Truths in Sarnath.
2. Secondary guidelines
Referring to the refuge in the:
- Buddha: do not follow other, lower beings as ultimate spiritual guides.
- Dharma: do not harm or upset humans or animals.
- Sangha: do not be negatively influenced by any extremists or others opposing
To show respect to the:
- Buddha: respect all images of the Buddha, treat these as if they are Buddhas.
- Dharma: respect texts, treat them with utmost care.
- Sangha: respect even piece of robes and all who wear robes (despite behaviour)
3. Six points of training:
1. Take refuge in the Three Jewels, do not seek the source of your happiness
and problems outside yourself.
2. Offer the first part of food or drink to the triple gem, by blessing
it before eating or drinking by reciting "Om Ah Hum".
3. Encourage others to become inner beings (Buddhists) and to take refuge;
but only when one is asked for advice.
4. Recite the refuge prayer 3x in the day and 3x in the night.
5. Follow the example of the Three Jewels, rely on them as the only trustworthy
6. Never lose faith in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha.
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THE REFUGE PRAYER
Traditional Refuge Prayers
I go for refuge to the Buddha,
I go for refuge to the Dharma,
I go for refuge to the Sangha.
or, the Tibetan (Mahayana) version:
Until I am enlightened,
I go for refuge to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Through the virtue I create by practising giving and the other perfections,
may I become a Buddha to benefit all sentient beings.
Refuge Prayer by Thich Nhat-Hanh
At the foot of the Bodhi tree, beautifully seated, peaceful and smiling,
the living source of understanding and compassion, to the Buddha I go
The path of mindful living, leading to healing, joy, and enlightenment,
the way of peace, to the Dhamma I go for refuge.
The loving and supportive community of practice, realizing harmony, awareness,
to the Sangha I go for refuge.
I am aware that the Three Gems are within my heart, I vow to realize them.
I vow to practice mindful breathing and smiling, looking deeply into things.
I vow to understand living beings and their suffering, to cultivate compassion
and loving kindness,
and to practice joy and equanimity.
I vow to offer joy to one person in the morning and to help relieve the
grief of one person in the afternoon.
I vow to live simply and sanely, content with just a few possessions,
and to keep my body healthy.
I vow to let go of all worry and anxiety in order to be light and free.
I am aware that I owe so much to my parents, teachers, friends and all
I vow to be worthy of their trust, to practice wholeheartedly,
so that understanding and compassion will flower,
and I can help living beings be free from their suffering.
May the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha support my efforts.
An extensive text
on Refuge on the Access to Insight website.
Just for fun:
Drawing on my fine command of language, I said nothing.
I don't want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.
Honesty is the best policy, except when a woman asks, "How do I look?"
September 11, 2011